Sunday, June 22, 2014

Najla**

Two beautiful Western women on red couches,
ma sha allah!
 
The room is full of chattering Western women in jeans, skirts and tee shirts. They sit on red and black cushions placed in rows on the floor, facing a wall sized screen where two Asian men with beards huddle over a computer and projector.
 
In a corner, a shrouded figure stands quietly against the wall. Of course it's a "she" - a black scarf is draped over her head and face. The sheer fabric shields her features, hides the curve of her shoulders, neck and chest, until it meets her abaya which conceals the rest of her from arms to toes. She is silent behind the veil, calm, unmoving. I have to look twice to realize she's a person and not part of the wall.
 
 
I search for the shadow behind the curtain. I smile. "Salaam alaykum."
 
"Wo alaykum salaam," a voice whispers. She chuckles and I know her. I say her name with a question mark. We hug.
 
She's not separated herself from me; I know this. She's stepped away because there are men in the room and her traditional interpretation of Islamic principles inhibits interaction of any kind between non mahram men and women. The covering is one expression of her conservative Islamic beliefs.
 
A woman's mahram is a person whom she is never permitted to marry because of their close blood relationship (such as her father, grandfather, great-grandfather, etc., and her son, grandson, great-grandson, etc., her paternal and maternal uncles, her brother, brother's son and sister's son)…
 
I feel the curiosity in the room, hear the whispers as women peek at her and wonder to each other: Who is she? Why is she hidden? Doesn't she want to be free? Who told her she had to cover herself?
 
Of course she knows what they're saying. She understands the discomfort and confusion and isn't bothered or offended. Her job is to teach, explain, enlighten Qatar's female visitors. Her mission is to share Islam.
 
 
I want to go from person to person and introduce this amazing, bright, enthusiastic, intelligent woman no one can see. I want to tell them how she's a diplomat's daughter who's travelled all over the world and speaks three languages. She has a university degree. She's an accomplished presenter and writer who is happily, joyfully married to a man she adores. She's fun, funny and smart. She has a large, loving, welcoming family who, if you were fortunate to visit in their home, would ply you with sweets, coffee and tea. They would intervene when your daughter is asked if she'd consider marriage to a local man ("she's focused on her studies at this time") - and send you home with a bag brimming with chocolate.
 
I want to tell them to look beyond the veil and the differences it represents.
 
But instead I find a spot against the wall, sit.
 
After the men leave it's just us girls. The veil comes off and personality takes its place. Questions are answered. She is a warm and welcoming representative of her country and culture as well as a bridge to understanding both Qatar and Islam.
 
Curious? No need to whisper. All you gotta do is smile and say hello.
 
**Not her real name, of course.
 
 
Yes, my blog is late this week. Thank you to everyone who wrote to let me know! I'm spending the summer stateside where I will be very busy jogging in the street, working in my green, green garden, fixing my house, eating Chipotle and watching Big Bang Theory with my beautiful (ma sha allah) children. Plus and especially, loving on the two most wondrous grandbabies God ever made (ma sha allah!). As such, my blogging schedule may be less routine - and more eclectic - than usual. Thanks for reading!
 
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